Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest Summary

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest” is a powerful and inspiring essay that continues to resonate with audiences today. It is an essay that can help us to think about our relationship with nature and our responsibility to protect the environment. Read more 2nd PUC English Summaries.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest Summary

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest Summary in English

In the first part of the lesson, the writer narrates how she learnt the basic principles of ecology. She says that her study of ecology started in the forests of the Himalaya because her father was a forest conservator. Hence, she declares that whatever she knows about ecology was learned from the Himalayan forests and ecosystems. Incidentally, her mother who was brought up in Lahore (which became Pakistan later) settled in India after partition and became a farmer.

In the next few paragraphs, she narrates the history of the Chipko’ movement. It was a non-violent response to the large-scale deforestation that was taking place in the Himalayan region in the 1970s. In this context, Vandana Shiva tells us that her involvement in the contemporary ecology movement began with the Chipko movement. During this period, the peasant women from the Garhwal Himalaya had come out in defence of the forests protesting against the ruthless cutting down of trees on a large scale for logging. This had resulted in landslides and floods, scarcity of water, fodder and fuel. Consequently, women had become the worst sufferers because they were in charge of fulfilling the daily requirements for cooking, washing and other household chores. They had to walk long distances for collecting water and firewood which was a heavy burden.

Fortunately, the women had realized that the forests were the real source of springs and streams, food for their cattle and fuel for their hearths. Therefore, the women declared that they would hug the trees, and the loggers would have to kill them before killing the trees. They appealed to the loggers not to cut them and to keep those trees alive.

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In 1973 she went to the Himalaya to visit her favourite forests and swim in her favourite stream. She wanted to see these spots before leaving for Canada to do her Ph.D., but the forests were not there and the stream had become a trickle. It was at this moment that she decided to become a volunteer for the Chipko movement. She spent every vacation doing padayatra (walking pilgrimages), documenting the deforestation, the work of the forest activists and spreading the message of Chipko.

Next, the author narrates the Chipko action that took place in the Himalayan village of Adwani in 1977. She recalls how a village woman named Bachni Devi led a movement of resistance against her own husband who had obtained a contract to cut trees. When the logging officials arrived at the forest, the women held up lighted lanterns although it was broad daylight. The forester admonished them saying that they were foolish women and did not know the value of the forest. He added that the forests produced a profit, resin and timber. The women sang back in chorus replying that the forests bore soils, water and pure air and also sustained the Earth and all that she bears.

In the next section titled ‘Beyond Monocultures’, Vandana Shiva tells the readers that she learned about bio-diversity and bio-diversity-based living economies, from the Chipko movement. Further, she remarks that our failure to understand biodiversity and its many functions is the root cause of the impoverishment of nature and culture. Then she says that the lessons she learned about diversity in the Himalayan forests she transferred to the protection of bio-diversity on her farms. She started saving seeds from farmers’ fields and incidentally realized that they needed a farm for demonstration and training. This led to the establishment of Navdanya Farm.

She declares that now they conserve and grow 630 varieties of rice, 150 varieties of wheat, and hundreds of other species. She proudly says that they practice and promote a bio-diversity intensive form of farming that produces more food and nutrition per acre. Finally, she observes that the conservation of biodiversity is, therefore, the answer to the food and nutrition crisis being faced in our country.

The Navdanya organisation helps farmers make a transition from fossil-fuel and chemical-based monocultures to bio-diverse ecological systems nourished by the sun and the soil. She concludes saying that bio-diversity has been her teacher of abundance and freedom, of co-operation and mutual giving.

The second part of the lesson begins with the title ‘Rights of Nature on the Global Stage’.
In the first section, she suggests that we accept nature as a teacher and when we do so we co-create with her and also recognize her agency and her rights. Incidentally, she says that Ecuador has recognized the ‘Rights of Nature’ in its Constitution and calls it a significant step. As a sequel, the United Nations General Assembly organized a conference on harmony with nature as part of Earth Day celebrations in April 2011. She makes a reference to the report of the UN Secretary-General titled ‘Harmony with Nature’, that was issued in conjunction with the conference. The report highlighted the importance of reconnecting with nature.

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Vandana Shiva opines that separatism is indeed at the root of disharmony with nature and violence against nature and people. The author supports her statement citing the opinion of Cormac Cullinan, a prominent South African environmentalist. According to him, “apartheid means separateness”. The author says that the whole world joined the anti-apartheid movement in order to end the violent separation of people on the basis of colour. Now that apartheid in South Africa has been put behind us, we need to overcome the wider and deeper apartheid – an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness of humans from nature in our minds and lives.

The author makes an attempt to trace the origin of the idea of separateness. The author recalls our beliefs about the Earth in the pre-industrial era when ‘Man’ believed that living beings were an inseparable part of nature. But, later with the advent of scientific thinking man came under the illusion that the living Earth was dead matter and there was no connection between the living Earth and the other living creatures. Vandana Shiva remarks that it was at this moment in history that the war against the Earth began. She observes that the seeds of separateness were sown when the living Earth was considered as a dead matter to facilitate the industrial revolution.

She adds here that monocultures replaced diversity; ‘raw materials’ and ‘dead matter’ replaced vibrant earth. The Earth came to be termed as Terra Nullius, which means ’empty land’, ready for occupation regardless of the fact that the Mother Earth (Terra Madre) was home to tens of thousands of indigenous peoples (people of different races, tribes, ethnicities).

Vandana Shiva next mentions Carolyn Merchant, a philosopher and historian, in her support and says that “this shift of perspective from nature as a living, nurturing mother to inert, dead and manipulable matter” was well suited to the activities that led to capitalism. Furthermore, Vandana Shiva says that the images of domination of the Earth by scientific methods, created by Francis Bacon and other leaders of the scientific revolution replaced the idea that the Earth nurtures life/living beings. They also successfully removed a cultural constraint on the exploitation of nature. Until then, people did not dare to “readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails for gold, or mutilate her body” as observed by Merchant.

It is to be inferred here that once Francis Bacon popularized the idea that the Earth can serve as a source of raw materials for scientific experiments, many new scientific discoveries and inventions were made which later led to the exploitation of iron, gold, copper, wood and metals from the earth and heralded the industrial revolution, modernization, growth of cities, increase in the number of rich people and urban culture, displacing other cultures.

In the next section titled ‘What Nature Teaches’, Vandana Shiva tells the reader what we need to do now. She says that we are facing multiple crises and hence we need to move away from the paradigm of nature as dead matter and move towards an ecological paradigm. Vandana Shiva tells us that to understand what an ecological paradigm means, we need to go to ‘nature’ herself and nature is the best teacher.

Vandana Shiva presents a model of the Earth University which she says is located at ‘Navdanya’, a bio-diversity farm. She says that Earth University teaches Earth democracy. The concept of Earth Democracy symbolizes “freedom for all species to evolve within the web of life”. It also refers to the freedom and responsibilities of humans as members of the Earth family, to recognize, protect and respect the rights of other species.

Vandana Shiva explains that the idea of ‘Earth Democracy’ is a shift from anthropocentrism to eco-centrism. Anthropocentrism is a school of thought which argues that humans are the central element of the universe. Now we need to accept that ‘eco-systems’ are the main elements of the universe and not Man, and the Earth nurtures diverse eco-systems. It also means that it is man’s responsibility to preserve these ecosystems. Since we all depend on the Earth for our survival, Earth democracy gives every human being rights to food and water, to freedom from hunger and thirst.

Vandana Shiva mentions the activities at Navdanya. She says that it is a bio-diversity farm where participants learn to work with living seeds, living soil, and the web of life.

In the next section titled ‘The Poetry of the Forest’, Vandana Shiva talks about the original source of the idea of ‘The Earth University’. She states that the concept of Earth University originated from Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan in West Bengal. Tagore started a learning centre in Shantiniketan in West Bengal as a forest school. The school became a university in 1921, growing into one of India’s most famous centres of learning. Vandana takes this forest school as a model and tells the readers that just as in Tagore’s time, we need to turn to nature and the forest for lessons in freedom. Then she refers to Tagore’s essay ‘Tapovan’ (Forest of Purity) in which Tagore has expressed his understanding of the Indian civilization.

Tagore asserts that India’s best ideas have come from where the man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. He adds that the peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. Furthermore, he says that the culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life and these processes of renewal of life are always at play in the forest, varying from season to season, in sight, sound and smell. This culture of the forest has fueled the culture of Indian society.

Vandana Shiva says that unity in diversity is the basis of both ecological sustainability and democracy. She adds that this is true of both nature and culture, and through our relationship with the forest we are united with nature.

Vandana Shiva further elaborates the features of the culture of the forest. She refers to Tagore’s writings and says that in his writings the forest was not just the source of knowledge and freedom, but was also the source of beauty and joy, of art and aesthetics, of harmony and perfection. It symbolized the universe. Vandana Shiva says that the forest teaches us union and compassion. It also teaches us ‘enoughness’. It means, it teaches us the principle of equity. It shows us how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation. Furthermore, she says that no species in a forest takes away the share of another species and every species sustains itself in co-operation with others. She concludes saying that the end of consumerism and accumulation is the beginning of the joy of living.

Finally, Vandana rounds off her article saying that the conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and co-operation, violence and harmony continues even today and in this situation, it is the forest that can show us the way beyond this conflict. Thus, Vandana Shiva wants to assure us that the forests teach us the values of diversity, freedom and co-existence.


Vandana rounds off her article saying that the conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and co-operation, violence and harmony continues even today and in this situation, it is the forest that can show us the way beyond this conflict. Thus, Vandana Shiva wants to assure us that the forests teach us the values of diversity, freedom and co-existence.